I recently was stranded in the country and the parental units had to come and pick me up. Well if thats not an excuse to fry some eggplant then I don't know what is. Sergio, the CSA farmer, gave us some gigantic eggplants this week. And if I have one special talent to save from the apocalypse it would be my frying technique. Eggplants are good for one thing, sopping up olive oil. How many times have I heard the lame complaint, "I hate the way eggplants soak up so much oil." Well what kind of oil are you using? I can put good extra virgin olive oil on anything and when its embedded in a spongy fat eggplant slice, it is fried heaven.
The key to frying eggplant is first soaking the slices in salted water for an hour or so. Some people think it removes the bitterness but its really just osmosis in action: the movement of water from an area of higher concentration to an area of lower concentration through a semi-permeable membrane, in this case sweet eggplant flesh. So the eggplant has lots of non-salty water in it. So when you put it into salty water, all that water in the eggplant wants to hook up with the salt on the outside so the water gets drawn out, making the eggplant perfect for frying. You know when water mixes with hot oil it can be a dangerous situation, so after I remove the eggplant slices from the salt water I get rid of the excess water by placing them on paper towels.
Now its time to fry! You really should not fry in extra virgin olive oil because it has a low burning temperature but you don't want your eggplant to sop up canola or worse corn oil. Gross. So I create a blend of extra virgin olive oil with canola oil in order to raise the burning temperature of the extra virgin olive oil. Smoking oil is not good for the body. I do not use a thermometer when I fry. I heat it up, then when I feel like its right, I put in a little piece of bread or whatever I am frying in the oil and if it gets all bubbly and happy then its the right temperature.
You want to use at least an inch of oil because like I mentioned the eggplants just soak in the oil. When they get nice and golden on each side, remove from the oil, place on more paper towels, then (do not forget this step) salt them with sea salt while they are hot.
So now you have all this fried eggplant, what do you do with it? Well philosophically speaking, the eggplants is the end, and the means to enjoying these oily beauties is either a nice red sauce or some good Italian Bread.
As my parents were driving up here I said, "Listen, I have some eggplant frying, we are going to need to figure out a sauce situation." Rocco arrived and was on it. His sauce is inspired by a tomato sauce he had in Tuscany but he made it Sicilian by adding basil. He fried some garlic in olive oil and added some peperoncino. Then he added some canned plum tomatoes and cut them up in the pan while they were cooking. He added some salt and pepper and after about 15 minutes added some fresh basil. It was done that fast and so delicious.
Mommy was like, "that sauce was so good."
Me: "how did he make that?"
"I don't know. I can't make sauce like that."
Its so simple, yet Rocco can really hook up a mean sauce in a hurry, like a magician while no one is looking. (And for the record, Mommy, who Rocco calls the "American Woman" makes a fresh tomato sauce that rivals Nonna's. Good thing Nonna has no internet access because what I just said was a major mala figura.)
And now its the moment we have all been waiting for. The marriage between the sweet fried eggplant and the delicious tomato sauce. The grated pecorino romano cheese is like the wedding band that bring the two flavors together in such delicious harmony for our bellies to enjoy. Good thing, Rocco has been complaining that his panza (It: stomach) is not fat enough.